The Later Victorians

Thomas William Robertson was initially an actor and only turned to writing for the stage upon his retirement at the age of thirty-five. He was to be one of the few figures of dignity in 19th century theatre. Realising the lack of realism and contemporary feeling in plays, he attempted to spin a natural and life-like web around his comedies. Best known now for his play Caste (1829-71), Robertson began with reasonably well-received works such as David Garrick (1864) and Ours (1866). Though slightly crude and artless to read, the plays seem less cripplingly sentimental or melodramatic when presented on stage. This argument would not have convinced WB Yeats, though. Defining the bookish era of the Modernist – he proclaimed, half a century later, "We do not think a play can be worth acting and not worth reading".

To put Robertson’s mediocre achievements in perspective, at this time the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was writing Peer Gynt (1867) and was only a decade away from his great play The Doll’s House (1879). It was Ibsen and none of the mid-19th century English writers who came to influence the development of the play in the 20th century. Possessed of a greater poetic style by far than that of his British contemporaries, he has (unusually for a Scandinavian) been wholly accepted in England. This is perhaps because he wrote during this appalling vacuum of quality drama in England, just as Boccaccio is accepted as the greatest storyteller of the medieval world before Chaucer partially for sheer lack of competition.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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